A Celebration of All Things Cultural, Artistic, and Entertaining in Madison
Nov 17, 2011
Listen to Ida Jo’s Singer in the Band and you’ll find it’s difficult to decide what’s more impressive: her powerful vocals or striking talent as a violinist. Happily, you can enjoy both in this diverse second release by the Duluth-born musician.
And you can learn a bit about her in this conversation with the artist.
Tell me about your journey to becoming a musician.
I started singing publicly in college. I’ve always loved singers like Mavis Staples and Lauryn Hill. Women with big soulful and voices. I knew eventually I wanted to pursue that style of singing. In college, I began singing with an a cappella group, which was a great way to use and strengthen my voice without being so exposed right away. Right now, my focus remains more on my singing and the development of my voice in my music than on violin. I have spent so many years putting all of my time and energy into developing violin technique, I have since felt confident that my violin skills will be there when I need them and I can focus more on my voice.
What is it about the violin that appeals to you?
I don’t know exactly what it was about the instrument that made me want to start learning. Around the time I started violin lessons, my aunt, also a violinist, was performing with a Finnish folk music ensemble. I loved that group and went on to perform and travel with them for many years. That was the start of playing the instrument in non-classical arenas. I’ve been lucky in the sense that I’ve been exposed to a very wide array of musical styles and performers. That exposure has encouraged me to play in whatever style I can.
I understand you use a chopping technique …
The chopping technique comes directly from bluegrass and folk music. Violin/fiddle is usually a soloing instrument so a simplified version of chopping has always been used to accentuate the backbeat when you're not taking a solo. In the past thirty years or so, chopping has really developed into not just a rhythmic too but a harmonic tool as well. I use it to back myself up, meaning playing the chords while keeping the rhythm of my songs, much like a guitar or piano would do.
What influence did studying at UW–Madison have on your music?
Studying at UW has influenced my musicianship and how I approach the making of my music primarily. When I write my music I use a lot of knowledge gathered from studying music theory. Specifically, I enjoy writing in odd time signatures not usually found in pop music. I studied violin performance, which is a tremendously detailed study of the instrument. That has influenced me to try and maintain that sense of attention to detail in non-classical music. A “place for everything and everything in its place” type of attitude. This is especially true on my records. Scott Lamps and Jordan Cohen, who played on both of my records, also studied at UW–Madison and I credit them for a lot of what I love about my recordings. They are very refined musicians, which allows for the records to seem very “loose” and groove-oriented.
You recently released your second album, Singer in the Band. What were your goals in putting it together?
I wanted to develop my style even more on Singer in the Band. Providence [released in 2010] was a way to figure out what it would sound like to put the chopping technique into soul/pop music and what my voice would be like on top of it all. I could push the boundaries a bit more on Singer having the foundation of Providence.
How is this album different from your first release? How have you changed as an artist over this time?
This album is freer than Providence. I was much more comfortable with my vision and the process of making the record. I knew I had done it once so I knew I could do it again. That “security” led to bigger singing, risks in the songwriting, and confidence in the production of it. Confidence is one of those things that develops over a lifetime. With it, the risks get bigger. The results then can be that much better ... or that much worse! Either way it’s pushing yourself to evolve as an artist that is important to me at least, and I feel I did that on Singer.
Where did you find inspiration for your songs?
I find inspiration everywhere and anywhere! Newspaper articles, family situations, friendships. I love that about it. You really never know where it’s coming from next.
How did “No (We Won’t Take It)” come about?
“No” came about after I dropped a friend off at the Union downtown while the protests were starting. I was trying to get back home but the crowds were so overwhelming it was very difficult. I was so taken by the fact that that many people would get together in the middle of the day to make a statement about something they believed so strongly in. I wanted to capture that energy and the statement people were making.
What’s your favorite part of making music? And what keeps you going and inspired?
Music is very inherent in who I am as a person. I began pursuing it at such a young age that it is just naturally who I am. That being said, it’s not really a question of how or if to keep going. I love performing and that’s probably my favorite part. I feels very freeing and natural to perform for people.
What’s next for you?
I’ve started on a new record. I wasn’t going to move on from Singer too quickly, but I have a lot of new songs so I’ll probably start recording in January or February. I’m also working with Scott Lamps and Mike Droho. The three of us were in a band a few years back and we’ve started on a new project as well. We’re calling ourselves Bello, so look for a record from us in the spring as well!
For more information on Ida Jo, visit idajoandtheshow.com.
Photo courtesy of Ida Jo.